- Contributed by
- Lionel Francis
- People in story:
- Home Guard Gunner Lionel Francis
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 January 2005
I must be one of the last surviving members of the 101st City of
London Home Guard, AA Rocket Battery,No7 Detachment, helping to defend London in the 1940s and stationed in Hyde Park. I was
there from its inception to its final stand-down in 1944.
Home Guard manned rocket batteries were installed in major
London open spaces after the devastating German blitz in 1940.
I know for certain there was a "Z" battery in Battersea Park Because my father was a member of it . I have a group photograph of the officers of his unit...
The battery site lay to the west of Park Lane in the big field now used for major events. Besides the HG "Z" Battery there were a
number of 3.7 inch AA guns at the north end of the field manned by the Royal Artillery. I also remember seeing a Bofors gun on site.
The "Z" Battery which was located in the southern part of the big field consisted of 64 projectors (rocket launchers) each one firing
two rounds for a total of 128 rounds per salvo.
Access to the site was via a path running north from the Apollo
statue at the Hyde Park entrance to the park.
Conveniently placed a safe distance from the projectors were squat corrugated iron open-ended sheds resembling miniature
Nissen huts.In them were racks of assembled rockets ready for use.
"Sleeping" quarters consisted of a row of Nissen huts each facing
east-west,flanking the Park Lane side of the field. Inside each was a row of simple cots downeach side.
The rocket unit was approximately 6 feet long and 4 inches in diameter. At the business end was an 18 pound high explosive
shell equipped with a brass fuse that was something special.
In place of a pointed tip to the fuse was a flat surface about one
inch in diameter as if the tip had been sawn off. In this flat was a series of small holes drilled parallel to the longtitudinal axis of the rocket. Airflow produced by the accelerating rush of the rocket
skywards built up a pressure on an internal " top-hat" shaped piece
that at a preset time started the initiation of the explosive in the shell.
Within the main body of the steel rocket casing was a propellant
of solid Cordite.
At the extreme tailend were four small steel clip on fins arranged
90 degrees apart. Between the fins were electrical contact pads
to allow contact with the fixed knife-blade contacts on the pro-
This was simple vertical steel structure standing on a circular
metal base,mounted close to the ground, that must have been at least 6 feet in diameter. It was marked clearly in 0 to 360 degrees azimuth.
Two pairs of long rocket guide rails (rods) were arranged parallel
to each other and in the same plane. They were pivoted about the centre of their length to permit elevation of the rounds.
Mounted to either side of the vertical main frame holding the tiltable launch rails was a horizontal ammo rack at knee height with
built-in fuse setting key. On each side of the main frame stood the
gunners No1 and No2,these being the gun crew.
No1 on the L.H.S (when facing the rear of the projector) was responsiblefor the setting of the fuse to his round, setting the projector bearing (by pushing on a horizontal bar at waist height)
and the final firing of the weapon.
For receiving orders during action No1 would permanently wear earphones normally stowed in a tin box at hos position.
Gunner No2 on the R.H.S of the projector was responsible for
fetching two rounds from the ammo shed,placing them in the No1 and No2 racks, setting the fuse on his own round,operating the
elevation by means of a crankwheel and finally holding in a button
to make partial electrical connection prior to No1 closing the circuit
through the final firing lever
Initial training was at the Royal Horticultural Hall near Vincent Square,Victoria.
I can recall the drill sergeant instructing us to," Put nose of shell
six inch aboove stop"
A trip to Southsea ( an off -limits zone during the war ) Allowed
tyro gunners to fire rockets into the sea for practice.
On the command " Fire", No1 pushed down hard on a lever. The
lever actuated first an external contracting friction brake, which locked the bearing setting securely. futher pressure on the lever
made contact with a plunger that completed the electrical firing circuit that sent the rockets on their way.
With a mighty Whoosh and a roar the roundshurled themselves
skyward. At the altitude set by the fuse the128 rockets exploded
more or less in unison to create a massive box of fire to the detriment of the German raiders and the joy of Londoners.
The sound made by the salvo was completely awe inspiring in its
noise and ferocity.
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